Basic Theology (7)
When God created Adam, He took the dust of the earth and breathed into it the breath of life to make a living person (Gen. 2:7). Although there were two steps to the act of creating, the result was a single, unitary living person. To be sure, the particles of the earth provided the material, while God’s breath effected life. Material and immaterial combined to produce a single entity. Within the material exists a variety of features—arteries, brain, muscles, hair, etc., and within the immaterial we also find a variety—soul, spirit, heart, will, conscience, etc. But without the unity of man’s being, this diversity could not function. “The biblical view of man shows him to us in an impressive diversity, but it never loses sight of the unity of the whole man, but rather brings it out and accentuates it.”
That man is bipartite in nature is undebatable. Man is a material and nonmaterial entity, the two aspects being distinguishable. Physical death is described as the separation of body and spirit (James 2:26). Biblical dichotomy differs from Plato’s teaching that the body was perishable but the soul existed in the heavenly world of pure form or idea before its incarnation in the human body and was therefore uncreated and immortal, a part of Deity. Biblical dichotomy certainly does not teach that the body is the prison house of the soul, which is released at death to return to the heavenly world or to be reincarnated in another body. Biblical dichotomy is radically different from Platonic dualism.
B. Not Trichotomy (“Cut in Three Parts”)
Popular trichotomy (man is composed of body, soul, and spirit) makes the spirit superior to the soul, and the spirit and soul superior to the body. Body relates to self, soul to the world, but spirit to God. Spirit and the spiritual are to be cultivated, while soulishness and body are deprecated. This prioritizing is incompatible with popular trichotomy’s attempt to draw an analogy between the tripartite nature of God and man. Certainly the persons of the Trinity are equal, though the parts of man are not. To which person of the Trinity would the body correspond? Trichotomy, popular or formal, cannot be substantiated logically, analogically, or scripturally.
Man is made up of two substances, material and immaterial. Each consists of a variety within. The many facets of the material and the many facets of the immaterial join together to make up the whole of each person. Man is rich diversity in unity.
II. THE FACETS OF THE IMMATERIAL ASPECT OF MAN
Man is like a diamond with its many facets. Those facets are not separate entities, yet they reflect various aspects of the whole. They may serve similar or overlapping functions, yet they are distinguishable. They are not parts; they are aspects, facets, faces of the whole.
In its most basic sense, the Hebrew word, nephesh, means “life.” It designates man originally created as a living being (soul) (Gen. 2:7) as well as other forms of life (1:20–21, 24, 30; Lev. 17:11). Notice also Exodus 21:23 and Joshua 2:13. This is the sense in which English would speak of an individual as a soul.
To sum up: soul can mean the whole person, alive or after death; it can designate the immaterial part of a person with its many feelings and emotions; and it is an important focus of spiritual redemption and growth.
Spirit (ruach and pneuma) refers only to the immaterial part of man, unlike soul, which can denote the whole man, material and immaterial. Man is a soul, but man is not said to be a spirit—he has a spirit.
The spirit originates from God, and all people have spirits (Num. 16:22; Heb. 12:9). It is simply not biblical to talk of man not having a spirit until he receives the Holy Spirit at salvation (cf. 1 Cor. 2:11; Heb. 4:12; James 2:26).